This Week in Lincoln County – July 17, 2017

No writer’s block this week, as there has been a lot of activity since my last update. In a time when negativity seems to rule the day, it is a pleasant relief to report some good news.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• Thanks to the cooperative efforts of Jay Gourley and Blanche Kelly of our Project Management office and our Emergency Management director Emma Epplin-Birdsell, I am happy to announce that the County has been approved for a $1.5 million Hazard Mitigation project which will combine $380,000 of local funds with $1,120,000 in FEMA funds to replace 8 dangerous low-water crossings with either a bridge or a concrete box culvert. These crossings, some of which require a driver to take their vehicle directly into the creek bed, present a danger that only gets worse when there is flooding. This is a huge win for Lincoln County and we are excited to get these projects underway later this year.
• Progress continues on the remaining 2015 flood projects. Aubuchon and Dickerman Roads will soon be re-opened and we award the last three contracts for flood-related bridge repairs tomorrow. In addition to all of these flood projects and our normal summertime activities, the Road and Bridge Department tackled an emergency situation on Mansion Rd. With minimal interruption to local traffic, our crews demolished and replaced a rapidly deteriorating culvert that was constructed many decades ago of hand laid stone. Job well done.
• Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the City Council meeting in Moscow Mills and Elsberry to discuss dispatching costs. I am happy to announce that we were able to at least temporarily resolve some of our issues. Let me stress that, contrary to what the media reports, our 911 service is not in jeopardy. The ongoing discussion centers on dispatch costs and warrant processing fees for municipal police, fire, and ambulance. Until we get some relief at the State level to allow us to try to pass a nominal fee on cellular phones like the other 49 States, it is up to us to manage escalating costs locally. Based on my experience in Moscow Mills and Elsberry last week, I can assure you that we are blessed with dedicated colleagues who share our commitment to do what is best for all of the residents of Lincoln County.
• There will be no update next week as I will be out of town with my family on our annual baseball trip. Destination: Denver!!

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – July 10, 2017

Writing has been one of my favorite pastimes since I was a youngster, but I have to confess that I occasionally suffer from a bout of writer’s block. At times, I feel like I am beating the proverbial dead horse. This week I will try to delve into a few subjects that don’t come up very often, which a few of you will hopefully find informative.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• With the temperatures soaring into the upper 90s I doubt many of you are thinking about snow, but this time of year is prime time for making preparations for the upcoming winter. For several years now, we have been pre-treating paved roads with a salt brine solution when snow and ice are in the forecast. The process has proven effective in preventing precipitation from sticking to the road surface and also makes plowing more effective as well. We are pleased enough with the results that our plans include the addition of a second unit to spread the brine, as well as the completion of improvements to our mixing system to increase the efficiency with which we get the solution down.
• The Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the Lincoln County Commission in an appeal that had been brought by 45th Judicial Circuit Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer. The original decision, made by the Judicial Finance Commission, upheld the County Commission’s assertion that the Circuit’s 2016 Budget request was unreasonable. After several months of deliberation, the Supreme Court upheld that decision.
• Renovations will begin soon to the columns on the front porch of the Courthouse. These are the original columns from 1870, and are just the latest phase in our plans to maintain the building, while making every attempt to be historically accurate in our efforts. We are currently working with our historical architect, nForm Architecture, to create a Master Plan for the courthouse that will be a useful tool when pursuing grant funding through the State Historical Preservation office. There are a number of architectural features that appeared on the original structure, but fell by the wayside over time. The architects are working with local historians and reviewing old photos to aid in the preparation of this exciting plan.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – July 3, 2017

It’s been a short week due to the Independence Day, but there has been no shortage of activity around the Courthouse. I hope everyone has been able to relax and enjoy the many freedoms we enjoy in this country, not the least of which is our independence.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.

  • I’m sure many of you are growing weary of all of the asphalt talk of late, but a question was posed that I think might be of interest. Why are asphalt prices higher this year, when gas prices have remained steady?  Our asphalt prices have indeed risen over 30% in some cases when compared to last year.  Each year the County bids hot-mix asphalt with the prices tied to the MODOT asphalt cost index, which in turn is applied to the asphalt content in each vendor’s mix design.  By indexing the product, we are afforded a degree of price protection in the event of price fluctuations.  In periods of rising asphalt prices, we are insulated from wholesale price increases based only on demand.  The price increases are limited to those allowed by the index.  During periods of falling asphalt prices, indexing allows us to capture price reductions which we otherwise would not recognize.  Asphalt is still an expensive proposition, but indexing is a useful tool in budgeting and cost control.
  • We should soon receive the final audit report for fiscal year 2016 and we are currently engaged in an audit “checkup” of our internal control policies and fraud risk assessment procedures. Auditing, both internal and external, is a valuable tool to measure how well we are complying with the laws set forth. Based on the results of these audits, we will make adjustments to continue to make our local government accountable to the taxpayers.
  • 911 Dispatch fees are again in the news and unfortunately, much of what is being presented by the media is not supported by the facts. The County continues to charge other entities less than the cost to provide the service and the County does not profit from the operation of the Dispatch center.  Dispatch Center director Captain Pirtle and I spend time each week brainstorming ways to trim costs from the budget. I encourage everyone, particularly those of you that live within a municipality, to give me or Captain Pirtle a call to talk about this matter.

That’s all I have time for now.  As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions.  Until next week…

Dan Colbert

Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – June 26, 2017

It has been an eventful weekend in my world.  My mother, who will turn 85 in August, took a little spill while playing basketball at my nephew’s graduation party. I am happy to report that she is doing well, but I think her basketball career is nearing an end.  She was able to attend the annual Colbert family reunion in downtown Louisville, MO, on Sunday, which happened to be the 141st anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Unlike General Custer, we had a peaceful gathering and everyone made it home safely.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.

  • This week I want to talk about asphalt. When the weather begins to get dry and roads get dusty, we begin to get a number of calls as to why a particular road is not paved and what it takes to get a gravel road paved.  The tenor of these calls ranges from inquisitive to aggressive and everything in between, but one statement in particular that I heard recently needs to be addressed.  Because county roads are under the purview of the Commission, it has been suggested that a good way to get asphalt on a road is to put “pressure” on the Commission.  While political pressure may work in Washington D.C., it doesn’t enter into the decision making process for county road paving.  The decision to pave a road is based on an objective decision making process that takes months and even years to complete. Factors such as population density and maintenance costs are weighed against budget constraints and other maintenance needs to establish our overall paving program.  While I encourage anyone who wants to talk asphalt to call the Commission, I can assure you that phone bombardments and threats of involving the media are not the way to get anything done.  We owe it to the taxpayers to make business-like decisions and avoid the urge to make subjective decisions because they may seem like the easy way out.
  • Our current inventory is made up of 150 miles of paved roads and 330 miles of gravel roads. As you can see, there are many more roads that are gravel than paved, but as we move past the financial blow of the 2015 floods, the Commission is working to resume our new pavement program.  Asphalt prices have risen due to strong demand, so this remains a challenge.  The material alone for a mile of asphalt is hovering in the $150,000 range, which, when spread over the life expectancy of the pavement, ranges from $20,000-$30,000 per year.  The annual material cost for that same one mile of gravel is about $1,000, so you can see that   paving a road is a huge undertaking.

That’s all I have time for now.  As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions.  Until next week…

Dan Colbert

Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – June 19, 2017

While doing some research on a road issue, I had to refer to a 1930 Lincoln County plat book.  It’s not often that an issue takes me to this volume, but once in a while we get a stumper that requires a trip into the archives.  Surprisingly, most of the roads that we travel today were established and in use already in 1930 and some even appear in my copy of the 1878 plat.  An occasional detour from the frantic social media driven lifestyle of today to immerse myself into the County’s history is indeed a pleasant distraction.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.

  • Speaking of social media, I continue to be amazed by some of the things that appear on Facebook, Twitter, etc. regarding the recent valuation changes sent by the Assessor. I don’t quite know whether to be entertained or disappointed by some of the elaborate conspiracy theories as to why the changes took place.  The most important thing to remember is that the re-assessment takes place in every odd numbered year as mandated by the State of Missouri.  No local officials, particularly the Assessor have any say in whether or not this takes place. Honestly, I have to shake my head at the internet scribes that preach strict adherence to the law 11 months of the year, yet lament the adherence to the statute during re-assessment month.
  • Let’s break down the process a bit more to gain an understanding of how a change in valuation will affect your tax bill. An overall increase in value does not equate to an equal increase in tax.  The Hancock Amendment requires taxing entities to “roll back” their levy amount to prevent such a thing from happening.  I cannot deny that the State mandated re-assessment will result in increased taxes, but I can assure you that the process is not an unregulated money grab by anyone.  When pondering the subject, compare the market value the Assessor has assigned to an honest estimate of what your asking price would be if you chose to sell your property.   When posing this question, I have found that the overwhelming majority of folks begrudgingly admit that the Assessor’s value is well below recent appraisals, sales, and other valuation methods.  If this is not the case on your property, call the Assessor’s office and make an appointment.  Kevin and his staff are there to assist.
  • There is bit of good news concerning the Office of Inspector General (OIG) Audit of our 2015 FEMA disaster grant. We have received a draft of the Final Report, and, while I am disappointed that FEMA does not pay for certain administrative costs of disaster recovery, the only “mistake” that they found on our part was that we had recorded a $1,800 expense as $11,800. Yours truly gets credit for fat fingering that one, but overall I am pleased that an audit at such a high level confirms that we are doing things by the book and following the rules.

That’s all I have time for now.  As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions.  Until next week…

Dan Colbert

Presiding Commissioner

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From the Commission – This Week in Lincoln County – June 12, 2017

Now that the assessment notices are out, I am happy to report that Assessor Kevin Bishop is still alive and well.  At this time of year, even the Commission office gets to handle a few property valuation complaints, but that goes with the territory and we are glad to do it.  Kevin and his staff are diligently working with folks, but I suspect our Board of Equalization hearings will still be a busy few days.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.

  • When I have my Commissioner hat on, most of my time is spent anchored to my desk reading reports, crunching numbers, and reviewing budgets, but today I was able to steal away with Commissioners Bass and Mueller to get out on the roads to look at some ongoing projects. I am happy to report that our efforts to keep the focus in our Road and Bridge Department on organized and efficient operations are reflected in the output.  Our supervisors and staff have really amped up their efforts and the progress shows.
  • Speaking of our Road and Bridge Department, last week we sent 7 employees to be trained in the use of our new Cartegraph record keeping software. Implementation of this program is a key piece in our efforts to be organized and efficient.  Employees will be able to record via tablet what they are doing, what equipment they are using, what materials they are using, and this will all be captured and compiled into a database that can generate a plethora of reports. An organized and efficient operation is an accountable operation as well.
  • Commuters that use southbound Highway 61 will need to allow extra time starting Monday, June 19 as MODOT will be working to widen and re-deck the bridge over Big Creek at the St. Charles County line. Traffic will be restricted to one lane, so leaving a few minutes early will keep you and the workers involved safe.  Road raging won’t get you to work any faster.
  • MODOT is also preparing to start the replacement of the Cuivre River Bridge on Route H this summer. Because MODOT’s budget is extremely limited, it is important now more than ever for the Commission to  maintain a collaborative relationship with our State Highway Department to see to it that Lincoln County and the region have their transportation needs addressed in as timely a manner as practicable.
  • Starting this week, this message will be posted on the County website as well, so tell your friends and neighbors.
  • That’s all I have time for now.  As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions.  Until next week…

Dan Colbert

Presiding Commissioner

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County Finalizing Historical Courthouse Grant

The Lincoln County Courthouse has once again been selected as a recipient of a Missouri Heritage Properties Program grant for the Fiscal Year 2017.  The grant was submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in December of 2016.

The grant scope of work will include insulating the attic of the original courthouse, re-cladding of the cupola, and repairing sections of the wood cornice.  With a total estimated project cost of $80,043, the grant will cover $50,030 of the entire project.

“Our first SHPO grant in 2015 was used to replace the asphalt shingles on the courthouse and completed the first of several preventative maintenance projects scheduled over a two-year time period,” said Presiding Commissioner Dan Colbert. “Using the current grant to insulate the attic should show returns in lower utility bills and the re-cladding of the cupola and repairing of the wood cornices will complete all roof projects.”

Currently the Commission is in negotiations with SHPO to determine the milestones and time line of the complete project. Once those negotiations are complete, it is estimated that the project will go out to bid in late summer.

Historical architect Jennifer Wilson of nForm Architecture has been contracted to oversee the grant project as well as to develop a Master Plan for the preservation of the courthouse.  Wilson will also oversee the restoration of the six cast iron columns on the front of the courthouse.

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